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Valley Friendship Tour team poses for a picture in 2015.

Blackstone Valley Xpress
May 2016

Have you ever had a goal that required energy, training and endurance? Facing such a challenge can be exciting and rewarding. But reaching that goal alongside friends, family and neighbors can be even more satisfying.

That’s just one of the reasons the Valley Friendship Tour has thrived for so many years. Saturday, June 4, the “fun day for a great cause” will return to the Blackstone Valley for the 31st year. Benefitting Alternatives Unlimited, Inc. – the Central Massachusetts human services agency that serves people with developmental and psychiatric disabilities – the non-competitive “tour” for bicyclists, runners and walkers aims to raise $300,000.

Originally, the Valley Friendship Tour was a 50-mile bike ride through the Blackstone Valley that was conceived of by Barbara H. Gaudette. Her husband and VFT co-founder, Gerald L. Gaudette (who passed away in 2003) was a devoted supporter of Alternatives. Keeping that dedication alive, the Gaudette Insurance Agency’s Gerry’s Gang was the top fund-raising team for the 2015 tour, and the agency has participated every year.

Although a 50-mile bike ride is no longer part of the tour, there are three options for teams, groups and individuals to choose from. People can bike in a 30-mile bike ride that starts at 9 a.m., they can walk or run in a 5K that starts at 10 a.m., or they can stroll in the Golden Mile Walk that begins at 11 a.m. With all routes starting and finishing at Alternatives’ Whitin Mill at 50 Douglas Road, all participants should finish their routes around 12 p.m., just in time to enjoy a celebratory lunch and live music from the Marshall Morris Band. There will also be tours of the mill, fun prizes, raffles and a magician, who will entertain the crowd.

Sponsored by Champion Sponsors Fallon Health and 401KQuote/Partners/Benefit Group, this year’s event is expected to draw more than 600 participants. Among them, will be Alternatives staff members, clients and supporters. With around 525 people participating last year, the event has grown each year. Karen Goldenberg, the Director of Marketing and Development for the agency, said “I’m excited that it’s growing, and people really seem to enjoy it.”

For the past 30 years, they’ve had fun while raising funds for the agency’s programs. They include residential, employment and day services programs that help its more than 2,000 clients to live healthy, happy, productive lives. It also sponsors many social events throughout the year that bring its clients together with the general community to promote friendship and understanding.

One of the programs it supports, Club 21 – an initiative that pairs its clients with general community members with similar interests to engage in community activities – fights social isolation, a significant problem for people with developmental and psychiatric disabilities. Additionally, Karen said that last year, some of the funds went to a new initiative to provide its developmentally challenged clients with iPads containing educational applications and applications that enhanced communications.

She said that funds raised also allowed Alternatives to hold health fairs and fun, health-related events. “It’s all around helping people live healthier lifestyles,” noted Karen. She later added “It’s been opening up worlds for people that otherwise wouldn’t have that opportunity.”

And giving people that opportunity to have “real homes, real jobs and real relationships,” while living healthy, satisfying lives, is a goal that unites Alternatives clients, supporters and staff members – who frequently find creative ways to raise funds – to walk, run and bike together in what Karen calls “a really nice team-building experience for everybody.”

With all the fun activities the Valley Friendship Tour offers, Karen said the highlight of the event is simply “the experience of people coming together.”

For individuals, groups or companies that would like to participate in, donate to or learn more about Valley Friendship Tour, please visit its website, www.alternativesnet.org/event/valley-friendship-tour-2016. For non-profit groups, there’s an opportunity to raise funds for your organization after raising $625 for Alternatives.

The registration fee for individuals is $30 before the event and $35 the day of the event. The Yankee Xpress is a proud Bronze Sponsor of the 2016 Valley Friendship Tour.

Contact Christine at [email protected]